The Columbus Dispatch
September 4, 2022
The Ohio State Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff chances took a major hit yesterday when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, led by starting quarterback Tyler Buchner and behind the sterling defensive play of Isaiah Foskey and Brandon Joseph, stunned a record home crowd at The Horseshoe with a 38-24 win.
The Irish were not supposed to win this game. Ohio State entered its stadium with a #2 national ranking, a proven winner in its Head Coach, a newly hired Defensive Coordinator considered to be one of the best in the country and everyone’s preseason Heisman favorite at quarterback. Notre Dame, despite its #5 ranking was not expected to provide the Buckeyes much of a challenge—not with an untested Head Coach at the helm and an untested quarterback under center. Experts had the Irish as 16-point underdogs and some felt that they were being kind in coming up with that spread.
Under Brian Kelly’s tenure, Notre Dame football’s fortunes took a turn for the better, particularly over the last five years, when the Irish put together a sterling 54-10 record and made it to two College Football Playoff appearances. Ohio State managed over the same period to go 56-7 and like Notre Dame, appeared in two playoffs. Yet all the talk leading up to the game was how the Buckeyes would dominate the Irish in its opener on its way to a CFP championship showdown with #1 Alabama. Many observers of the game had quickly forgotten how Ohio State’s 30-2 home game record over the past five years was marred by two season-opening losses at home to Oklahoma and Oregon, both ranked and both favored to lose to the Buckeyes. Clearly, the Irish had not forgotten.
The key to Notre Dame’s chances to win laid with Buchner, a highly regarded recruit who saw limited action during his freshman year. Buchner had some good moments, and a few bad ones in his game-time appearances—enough to have Irish fans wondering whether he would be able to step up and successfully take over the offense under first year Head Coach Marcus Freeman. Buchner did not disappoint.
Having won the opening coin toss, Notre Dame opted to receive the ball and in its first possession, took a little over four minutes and 10 plays to score its first touchdown of the day. During that drive, Buchner completed four of his six passes for 44 yards, and managed another 15 yards on his feet, including a 7-yard scamper into the end zone for the score.
Down 7-0, the Buckeyes were not shaken. CJ Stroud demonstrated why he leads all contenders for the Heisman Trophy by taking his team down the field in 8 plays, culminating in a 15-yard scoring pass to preseason All-American wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Ohio State and Notre Dame exchanged two more offensive touchdowns over the first half of the game, and just when it appeared that both would enter halftime tied, Brandon Joseph, the Irish All-American safety and recent transfer from Northwestern, intercepted a Stroud pass and took it 61 yards for an Irish score. It would be the only interception thrown by Stroud all day, but its effect would be crippling as Notre Dame took a 21-14 lead and a load of confidence back into its locker room.
Ohio State took the second half kickoff, and despite what had started out as an impressive drive, settled for a 45-yard field goal when on 3rd and 2 at Notre Dame’s 20-yard line, Stroud was sacked by Isaiah Foskey for an 8-yard loss. Foskey would add another drive-ending sack at the end of the third quarter with the Irish ahead 28-17 on a 22-yard scoring pass from Buchner to tight end Michael Mayer.
Foskey’s biggest play was yet to come. In the middle of the 4th quarter, after Ohio State had closed to 31-24 after another Stroud-to-Smith-Njigba pass for a touchdown, the Buckeyes were in possession of the ball and driving for a game tying score when Foskey stripped the ball from the hands of running back TreVeyon Henderson and recovered the fumble. Notre Dame took over the ball at their own 42-yard line and behind Buchner, put together a 58-yard scoring drive and a 38-24 lead that essentially sealed the game for the Irish.
Stroud should not carry the burden of this loss on his shoulders. He finished with a commendable 22 of 30 completions for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Credit has to be given to the Irish defense for keeping Ohio State at bay, especially at times when it appeared that the Buckeyes were on the verge of a comeback. These aren’t Heisman numbers, but Stroud will have his opportunities against the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan to demonstrate what he is capable of. As for Buchner, this was as strong as a debut that Irish fans could have hoped for against one of college football’s elite teams. Buchner finished 20 of 28 for 256 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, and as a bonus added a rushing touchdown to his offensive contribution. There is still an entire season ahead for the Irish, but if Buchner can continue to improve, fans will be happy to know that Notre Dame should be more than ready to take on Clemson and USC later in the season.
As for Marcus Freeman, Coach openly committed to doing everything he could to recruit the best talent to Notre Dame. He has since held true to his word as the Irish recruiting classes for 2023 and 2024 are already shaping up to be among the best in the nation. Freeman is proving his mettle as a recruiter. Still, the verdict on his abilities as a head coach was still out. Until yesterday. Heading off to one of the nation’s most intimidating college football environments for his first regular season game and having to play a team seemingly predestined to vie for the national championship, Freeman would have been forgiven had his team lost to the Buckeyes. First game, huge opponent, tough venue. Beating the spread would have been seen as a bonus. However, It became quickly clear that Freeman, who played his college football at Ohio State, was not going to allow himself to be outcoached, no matter what the odds. This morning, Notre Dame stands at 1-0 and with a marquee win on prime-time television and has immediately positioned itself as a true contender for the national championship. Not bad for a first-year head coach.
As for Ohio State, this will be a painful week, full of introspection as to what went wrong. However, unlike Notre Dame, where a loss would have significantly decreased its chances for the CFP, yesterday’s loss by the Buckeyes has not necessarily eliminated Columbus from the playoffs. It will be a challenge, but if Ohio State were to win its next 11 regular season games, as it was fully expected to do before the weekend, and in doing so also win the Big Ten championship game, it would finish the season 12-1 and as a major conference champion, very likely find itself invited back to the CFP. In that sense, every game from here on out for the Buckeyes is an elimination game and the players know it.